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Penn State Basketball Roundtable: Nittany Lions Avoid Winless Start To Conference Play

Nittany Lions went 3-1 over the past two weeks.

NCAA Basketball: Alabama at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State went on the road and faced a buzzsaw in Ohio State, then returned home and beat a previously top-5 Maryland team. The Nittany Lions have shown resiliency not often seen before, being able to recover from each of their two losses and followed it up with wins. They’ve also avoided disaster against team they’ve been favored against, in Alabama and Yale. For their efforts, they’re the number 23 team in the land.*

Q: Overall, Penn State had a positive couple of weeks, going 3-1 against a slate that included two top 10 teams. How are you feeling?

Chris Taylor: Never been better. The team is right where it needs to be and fans are beginning to realize that this could be a ‘once in a decade’ type of team, in that it is likely that it will get to the NCAA tournament.

Rowen: Excited. The team responded well after their blowout loss to the Buckeyes, and have shown the ability to win in different ways.

Marty: It’s weird to feel good about a Penn State basketball team, but that is exactly how I feel. The Nittany Lions, outside of their loss to Ohio State, have played some really strong basketball thus far this season. They have also shown a lot of mental toughness that we have not seen in the past. Penn State of old 100% would have lost to both Yale and Alabama. This pride of lions, however, rallied to pick up the victory.

Clay: Pretty good! This is the most talented PSU team probably ever, and that includes depth. And it comes in a year where literally every team in the nation is gettable.

Tim: Considering the fact I thought “oh boy, here we go again” after blowing that 21-point second half lead to Ole Miss, I’m feeling a lot better. Taking down a Top 5 Maryland team right after allowing Ohio State to pass the century mark showed me this team differs from previous ones in that they don’t allow themselves to lose twice, three times, or more to the same team. They are very good at putting a loss behind them and focusing on the next opponent at hand. Given how difficult it appears to be to win on the road in the Big Ten, they will need to preserve that mentality throughout the remainder of the season.

Eli: As a long time Chambers supporter, it’s fun to see it all finally come together on the court. Seeing a team with the resiliency to take a loss, a bad one at that, and come back to be the other top 10 team on its schedule is a sign that maybe the experiment didn’t fail after all.**

Q: Which Penn State is the real Penn State: The one that lost by 32 to Ohio State or the one that beat Maryland?

Chris Taylor: It’s college basketball so the same team can have games that are drastically different, from week to week. PSU played very well against OSU even past the Stevens ejection, trailing by 8 shortly after OSU took it to 13 with the technical foul shots and possession. If the Lions can go .500 against teams from the Big Ten that should make the NCAA tournament, then they should be fine by the end of the year.

Rowen: The one that was within 10 points against Ohio State before Lamar Stevens fouled out. They can compete with anyone remaining in the schedule.

Marty: The one that beat Maryland. Penn State is a good team, they have proven as much this season. Things snowballed against the Buckeyes, and Penn State is much better than that.

Clay: Somewhere in between, but probably closer to the one that beat Maryland. As I said above, this year there’s not a single team that plays consistently very good basketball.

Tim: The one that beat Maryland. Ohio State is a damn good team, but not 32 points better than PSU. They were absolutely unconscious from three-point range to the point where Kaleb Wesson was draining them. The Maryland game showed a team that plays as a cohesive unit, not relying on having to be carried by Lamar Stevens playing “hero ball” but rather playing great team defense and working together offensively to make sure they don’t get stuck in “chuck and duck” mode. Having some real bench depth with Izaiah Brockington, Curtis Jones Jr., and John Harrar also helps.

Eli: We don’t know yet. Ask me again in February when the team has completed their patented “becomes a really good team out of nowhere” transformation. One thing’s for sure, though, Lamar can have a real breather this season, unlike last, but we did learn that we can’t go an entire half’s worth of time without him.

Q: Several of Penn State’s non-conference opponents have notched really good wins. Is that surprising? Expected? All of the above?

Chris Taylor: Not really. You never know what is going to happen, but Georgetown looked pretty good when they played us, same with Yale. Especially Yale, actually. In retrospect, Yale played PSU perfectly, executing a game plan that would work, but fell short due to the Lions’ superior talent. When Yale plays teams that are similar in skill level, they should win often.

Rowen: Georgetown seems unfazed by the loss of key players, but as long as McClung and Yurtseven are playing well I won’t be too surprised by their success. Wake Forest’s win over Xavier is the most surprising so far given their performance in State College earlier this month.

Marty: It’s definitely a good thing to see. Adding to the SOS in any way, shape or form is a good thing. It also helps solidify that Penn State is indeed a good team.

Clay: The country may cannibalize itself this year, so I’m not too surprised.

Tim: Georgetown was getting a good amount of preseason hype, but to see them still pulling off wins like they are despite having only seven scholarship players is quite impressive. Perhaps it will catch up to them in Big East play, but for PSU’s sake, let’s hope the Hoyas keep it up. Wake beating Xavier was quite surprising, as they seemed like a team destined for the basement of the ACC once again, so we’ll see if Danny Manning’s boys can keep it up. Yale being the alpha dog of the Ivy League is promising, as it makes that comeback win over them age like a fine wine. At this point, I’d like to see Syracuse get their act together, but perhaps this may truly be a down year for them. We’ll find out over the next couple months, I suppose.

Eli: I was real concerned that this slate was going to turn out like the NIT season’s, but I’m quite glad to see teams grab some non-conference wins to make it look more respectable. Of course, Penn State can make their OOC almost irrelevant if they keep winning, but having that extra notch helps.

Q: It’s possible that, by the time our readers see this, Penn State is a ranked team. What does being ranked mean for the program?

Chris Taylor: Not much in the big picture since the NET Rankings are what the selection committee uses to help them determine the field for the NCAA tournament. So the polls are just for pats on the back and recognition, which is great. It feels great to see people around the country, outside the normal sphere of Penn State basketball, showing respect for Penn State basketball. That will help carry the momentum that Pat Chambers has built over the past three seasons.

Rowen: Positive national attention to continue to build upon.

Marty: Cracking the top 25 would be a great achievement for this program. For the better part of 20 years Penn State has been one of the worst programs in the Big Ten. To finally crack the top 25 would mean a lot to Coach Chambers, his assistant coaches, the players, and the fans.

Clay: Can’t hurt! I’m admittedly not as bought in as Chris, Ross, Eli and Tim, but it’s nice to see.

Tim: Undoubtedly, it’s huge, considering the fact nobody on the current roster was even born the last time PSU hoops was ranked. Aside from that confidence boost to the players from seeing all of their hard work pay off with a number next to their team’s name, the coaching staff is likely using it as ammo on the recruiting trail to persuade the next Lamar Stevens or Mike Watkins to come suit up in Happy Valley. Personally, as somebody who fondly remembers that 1995-96 squad, I feel like a kid again, seeing the team have this much success.

Eli: There are a couple of 4- and 5-star players on Penn State’s radar for the 2021 class. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t mind playing for a ranked team.

Q: The Nittany Lions close the non-conference slate against two bottom dwellers. What’s the goal in the next two weeks?

Chris Taylor: No injuries, no losses, let’s see some guys further down in the rotation on the court to keep them game-ready if needed and also reward them for going to practice, doing all the right things.

Rowen: See what Lundy can do with extended playing time, and fine-tune the rotation prior to a big game against Iowa on 1/4.

Marty: Cause pain. Lots and lots of pain. Finish the non-conference slate on a high note and rev up for what should be a fun Big Ten season.

Clay: Two double-digit wins.

Tim: Central Connecticut State and Cornell are a combined 1-19 on the season. Needless to say, I’m not worried about losing to either of these opponents. What I would like to see however, is PSU just bury these teams and allow the bench to be emptied as early as possible, while avoiding any critical injuries.

Eli: Cover so my gambling ass can pay for all these holiday gifts I’m buying.

*I asked the questions well before the rankings came out.
**I fell off the wagon last season at some point, but I’ve asked the Bus for forgiveness and have done my penance.